In a December 2020 note, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that although vaccines with a remote connection to abortion are “morally acceptable,” it also stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.”
The congregation acknowledged “reasons of conscience” for those refusing a vaccine, while at the same time noting: “In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed.”
Those refusing COVID-19 vaccines “for reasons of conscience” must take appropriate precautions to avoid transmitting the virus, the Vatican said.
Some employers, including the Catholic health care network Ascension, have already begun mandating that employees receive COVID-19 vaccines.
In California, teachers must have proof of vaccination or face regular testing, the governor announced Wednesday. New York City last week announced it will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for workers and patrons of some businesses, such as gyms, restaurants, and theaters.
The Catholic bishops in Colorado have emphasized the need to respect those with conscientious objections to the COVID-19 vaccines and have provided a template letter for any Catholics with objections to mandatory vaccination. They also welcomed the City of Denver’s vaccination mandate for including a religious exemption.
The New York archdiocese, meanwhile, has warned priests against granting religious vaccine exemptions for Catholics.
“There is no basis for a priest to issue a religious exemption to the vaccine,” stated a July 30 memo from the archdiocese’s chancellor, John P. Cahill, to all pastors, administrators, and parochial vicars in the archdiocese. The memo was issued several days before the city announced its vaccine mandate.
While recognizing the “discretion” of individuals to either receive or decline a COVID-19 vaccine, the archdiocese’s memo said that priests “should not be active participants to such actions” by granting religious exemptions.
Several Catholic seminaries in the northeastern US are requiring COVID-19 vaccination for their seminarians before the coming semester begins.
As of June, about 80% of Catholics say they have gotten a COVID-19 vaccination or will do so as soon as possible, according to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and released July 27. The Catholic acceptance rate was somewhat higher than the general population, about 71% of whom accept the vaccine.
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The Catholic Health Association, the national leadership organization for Catholic health care, on July 27 strongly encouraged all health care personnel to get a COVID-19 vaccination. It voiced support for mandatory vaccination policies at hospital and health systems, “with the appropriate accommodations for medical or religious reasons.”
In its July 2 statement on vaccine mandates, the National Catholic Bioethics Center cautioned against mandates, especially when the COVID vaccines have yet to be fully approved by the FDA. The center said “it would be a radical departure from past practice to impose a mandate involving an unapproved vaccine available only under an Emergency Use Authorization.”